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THE LIGHT WHITE CLOUD
(A Medicine Man]
H. B. PRICE
An effort is made in these few pages to
assemble the historic facts about White Cloud,
the Prophet for whom Prophetstown was
named. No pretension is made for originality
in what is said. Beyond a sentence or two in
two or three places to connect related thought,
it is not comment nor discussion. The facts
were gleaned from these sources :
Hodge, Handbook of American Indians ;
The George Catlin Indian Gallery ; Drake's
Book of Indians ; Wakefield, History of
the Black Hawk War; Stevens, The Black
Hawk War; Black Hawk's Autobiography;
Thwaites, The Black Hawk War. The Story
of Col. Gratiot's escape from the Indians at
Prophetstown was told by Hon. Elihu Wash-
burne, and is found in Bent's History of
Whiteside County, and in Stevens' Black
The picture of the Prophet is from a
photograph by Ray Hart of the painting by
H. B. PRICE.
THE LIGHT WHITE CLOUD
[A Medicine Man]
''He ruled a village on Rock River ^ thirty-
five miles from the mouth of that river^
at the site of the present village of Proph-
His mother was a Sauk, his father a Winnebago.
His Indian name Wa-bo-ki-e-shiek means The Light
or White Cloud, and when given the English name he
was White Cloud. Being a medicine man he was a
prophet, and, as with white men, when he had a title
he was most often given the title, The Prophet. His
relation to the two tribes, his office as prophet, and
his native ability, his shrewdness and power of oratory,
all combined to give him great influence over both the
Sauks and the Winnebagos.
He is reputed to have been an uncompromising
enemy of the white people, and according to their way
of thinking, a mischief maker.
'*To this man is ascribed the concluding proph-
ecies that led Black Hawk to believe he could succeed
in regaining the Sauk village at Rock Island."
"Here (at Prophetstown) the scheme of revolt
against the government was completed."
^George Catlin Indian Gallery.
However, two men who knew him and who were
closely associated with him testify to acts of friend-
ship to the white people.
Major Thomas Forsyth, a half brother of John
KInzie of Fort Dearborn fame, and the Government
agent for the Sauks and Foxes from 1819 to 1830, says
(page 580 in Waubun, also Red Men of Iowa, pages
269-272), "Many a good meal has the Prophet given
to people travelling past his village, and very many
stray horses has he recovered from the Indians, and re-
stored to their rightful owners, without asking any
The Gratiots relate a story of the friendly visits
of the Prophet to Col. Gratiot while on hunting expe-
(The account of Col. Gratiot is reserved for its
chronological place in the story.)
How The Black Hawk War Came On
Neapope, Black Hawk's lieutenant, went to Mai-
den, Canada, to consult the British authorities in regard
to the right of the Sauks to retain their lands on Rock
River. On his way back to Black Hawk, who was at
the site of Old Fort Madison, on the west side of the
Mississippi River, near the mouth of the Des Moines
(Thwaites, p. 134), Neapope stopped at the Prophet's
village, and there spent the winter of 1831-32. He gave
glowing reports of proffered aid from the British and
the Winnebagos, Ottawas, Chippewas and the Pota-
watomis, in regaining the village. (Thwaites, page
132). The Prophet is said to have performed some in-
cantations, had several visions, and prophesied that if
Black Hawk would move against the whites he would
be joined by the Great Spirit and a large army which
would enable him to overcome the whites and regain
possession of his old village.
—Handbook, Vol. II, page 886.
In his Autobiography, Black Hawk says that when
Neapope reached him, "He informed me, that the
Prophet was anxious to see me, as he had much good
news to tell me, and that I would hear good news in
the Spring from our British father. 'The Prophet re-
quested me to inform you of all the particulars. I
would much rather, however, you should see him, and
learn all from himself. But I will tell you that he has
received expresses from our British father, who says
that he is going to send us guns, ammunition, pro-
visions, and clothing early in the spring. The ves-
sels that bring them will come by way of Mil-wa-ke
(Milwaukee). The Prophet has likewise received
wampum and tobacco from the different nations on
the lakes — Ottawas, Potawatomis, and as for the Win-
nebagos, he has them all at his command. We are
going to be happy once more'."
The advice of White Cloud was, that Black Hawk
should proceed to the Prophet's town the following
spring and raise a crop of corn, assurances being given
him that by autumn the several allies, armed and
equipped by the British, would be ready to join the
Sauk leader in a general movement against the whites
in the valley of the Rock.
— Thwaites, page 133.
Black Hawk Crosses The Mississippi
*'On the sixth of April, 1832, Black Hawk and
Neapope, with about five hundred warriors (chiefly
Sauks), their squaws and children, and all their pos-
sessions, crossed the Mississippi at the Yellow Banks,
opposite the present site of Oquaqua, Henderson
County, and invaded the State of Illinois. For vari-
ous reasons Black Hawk had concluded that the rep-
resentations of Neapope and the Prophet were ex-
aggerated. But the Prophet met him at the Yellow
Banks, and gave him such positive assurance of ulti-
mate success, that the misguided Sauk confidently and
leisurely continued his journey."
Black Hawk says in his Autobiography, "The
Prophet then addressed my braves and warriors. He
told them to follow us, and act like braves, and we
had nothing to fear, but much to gain. That the
American War chief might come, but would not, nor
dare not, interefere with us so long as we acted peace-
ably. That we were not yet ready to act otherwise.
We must wait until we ascend Rock River and receive
our reinforcements, and we will then be able to with-
stand any army."
Black Hawk Progresses Up Rock River
Black Hawk proceeded up the east bank of Rock
River as far as the Prophet's town — some four hun-
dred fifty of his braves being well mounted, while the
others, with the women, children, and equipage, oc-
cupied the canoes. The intention of the invaders was,
as stated before, to raise a crop with the Rock River
Winnebagos at or immediately above the Prophet's
town, and prepare for the war-path in the fall, when
there would be a supply of provisions.
The Indians Come To Prophetstown
According to Wakefield, Black Hawk reached the
Prophet's town on April 26, 1832. "On the 26th Mr.
Gratiot saw at a distance, about two miles down Rock
River, the army of the celebrated Black Hawk, consist-
ing of about five hundred Sacs, well armed and mount-
ed on fine horses, moving in a line ol battle — their
appearance was terrible in the extreme. Their bodies
were painted with white clay, with an occasional im-
pression of their hands about their bodies, colored
black. About their ankles and bodies they wore
wreaths of straw, which always indicated a disposition
—Wakefield's History of the Black Hawk War,
Black Hawk Spends a Week At
Black Hawk tarried a week at the Prophet's town,
holding fruitless councils with the wily and vacillat-
ing W'innebagos. (Thwaites, Page 148). From here
he proceeded to Sycamore Creek (Stillman's Run).
CoL Gratiot's Mission To The Prophet
The military forces at Fort x\rmstrong kept close
watch on the movements of Black Hawk and his band.
General Henry Atkinson arrived at Fort Armstrong
on the night of April 12th and assumed command.
Soon afterward General Atkinson went to Fort Craw-
ford. There he requested Col. Henry Gratiot to go to
the Prophet and try to induce him to dissuade Black
Haw^k from his march and to return to the west side
of the Mississippi.
Col. Gratiot started on April 16th with one white
man. On the 19th he arrived at the Turtle village of
the W'innebagos. He was delayed here until the 22nd.
Here twenty-four Winnebago chiefs and head men
joined him. Among them were Broken Shoulder,
Whirling Thunder, White Crow, Little Medicine Man
and Little Priest. They rode to Dixon where canoes
were taken and thev continued on the wav to the
Prophet's village, arriving there on the 25th. On land-
ing, though he carried a flag of truce, Col. Gratiot was
surrounded by hostile Sacs, who with every demon-
stration of violence, made him a prisoner. Black
Hawk, himself, who had hoisted the British flag su-
pervising the incident, and evil times had certainly
fallen on Col. Gratiot, had not the Prophet, seeing the
danger of his agent, rushed to his rescue, crying,
"Good man, good man, my friend. I take him to my
wigwam. I feed him. He be good friend to my In-
When the Prophet had him securely in his wig-
wam, Col. Gratiot explained the peaceful object of his
mission and the perfidy of the Indians if they refused
to deal honorably with him. He further sought, with
all the eloquence and logic he could master, to dis-
suade the Prophet and Black Hawk from their un-
righteous expedition. The Prophet listened attentive-
ly, but if any impression had been made on him it
was not noticeable in word or action, and neither
could he be persuaded to try to influence Black Hawk
to give up his mad enterprise. However, as a friend,
the Prophet was determined to save Col. Gratiot's life,
if such a thing were possible. He kept him in his
wigwam for two or three days, watching for an op-
portunity to free him. The ferocious Sacs clamored
louder each hour for scalps, and no doubt would have
succeeded in taking them had not the Prophet seduced
them away temporarily by promises till the desired
opportunity should arrive. Returning hastily on the
27th he said to Col. Gratiot, "Chouteau (Col. Gratiot's
Indian name), you have always been my friend and
the friend of my people, and you and your party must
not be harmed, but there is great trouble. My young
men will never consent to give } ou up, so you must
leave without their knowledge. Your canoes are on
the shore ; go to^ them at the moment when I shall
indicate and leave instantly, and go with all speed —
like wild fire — for the young men will give you chase.
All will depend on the strength of your arms."
The signal was given, and scarcely had the canoes
been launced when an alarm in the village brought the
Sacs and the young Winnebagos to the river, where
a wild war whoop was sounded and an exciting chase
down Rock River was begun to capture Col. Gratiot.
Gratiot's men pulled for their lives, first losing and
then gaining. The maddened Sacs whooped and
shrieked with anger at the possible miscarriage of
their plans as they lent renewed vigor to their strokes,
but a sense of overwhelming danger put courage and
strength into the oars of the pursued and they finally
distanced their pursuers, arriving safely at Fort Arm-
strong on April 27th, unnerved and exhausted, to re-
port that nothing could be done by moral suasion to
prevent the advance of Black Hawk and that nothing
but force would avail.
(As told by Hon. E. B. Washburn, Col. Gratiot's
son-in-law. Stevens, Pages 112-115.)
The Army Comes To Prophetstown
Black Hawk and his band were followed by an
army of two parts which started from Fort Armstrong.
Brigadier-General Samuel Whiteside led some twelve
or thirteen hundred mounted soldiers along the trail
east of Rock River. General Atkinson led three hun-
dred volunteer footmen and four hundred regular in-
fantry up the river in canoes. The infantry was di-
rectly under command of Colonel Zachary Taylor.
They started on the ninth day of May. When Gen-
eral Whiteside reached the Prophet's town he found
it deserted. He burned the village and then pushed
on to Dixon's.
From Prophetstown To The
Battle Of Bad Axe
In the account of Black Hawk's flight, commonly
called the Black Hawk War, the Prophet is not men-
tioned till they reach the Mississippi River, but it is
very probable that he was near Black Hawk through-
out the entire movement.
From the fourteenth of May, the date of the skirm-
ish at Sycamore Creek (Stillman's V^alley), they were
till the first of August reaching the Mississippi, ar-
riving at a point about two miles below the mouth of
Bad Axe Creek.
Throughout this two and a half months Black
Hawk's forces and people were scattered in several
small bands, but they spread out over a considerable
portion of northwestern Illinois and the southwest-
ern part of what is now Wisconsin, going as far north
as the present site of Madison. They then moved as
rapidly as they could go toward the Mississippi, reach-
ing a point about two miles below the mouth of Bad
Axe Creek, July 31.
From The Dalles Of Wisconsin To
After the Battle of Bad Axe. which occurred on
August 1st and 2nd, Black Hawk gathered a party of
ten warriors, among whom was the Prophet, and with
these and about thirty-five squaws and children, head-
ed east for a rocky hiding-place at the Dalles of the
Wisconsin whither some Winnebagos offered to guide
On the twenty-seventh of August, Chaeter and
One-eyed Decorah, two Winnebago braves desirous of
displaying their newly inspired loyalty to the Ameri-
cans, and for a reward of twenty horses given by Gen-
eral Atkinson at Dixon, delivered Black Hawk, the
Prophet and Neapope into the hands of General Street,
the Indian Agent at Prairie du Chien, they having
found Black Hawk and his few companions at the
Dalles, above the site of the Delles of Wisconsin.
From Prairie du Chien, Black Hawk, the Prophet,
Neapope and three others were taken to Fort Arm-
strong. There a treaty of peace was signed on the
twenty-first of September, 1832. The three were held
as hostages for the good behavior of the small rem-
nant of the British band and their Winnebago allies.
From Fort Armstrong they were taken to Jef-
ferson Barracks, near St. Louis, where they were kept
through the winter. *
Journey To Washington
One of the few things people learn about Black
Hawk is, that, in the spring of 1832, he was taken
to Washington and on a tour of eastern cities to be
shown the white man's cities and their power. The
Prophet was with Black Hawk on this tour. At the
time of the visit Black Hawk was first presented to
the President, then the Prophet, who made this speech,
which, according to Catlin, is a model of brevity and
"We expected to return immediately to our peo-
ple. The war in which we have been involved was
occasioned by our attempting to raise provisions on
our own lands, or where we thought we had a right
to do so. We have lost many of our people, as well
as the whites. Our tribes and families are now ex-
posed to the attacks of our enemies, the Sioux, and
the Menominees. We hope, therefore, to be permitted
to return to take care of them."
But his plea was not granted.
They were sent to Fortress Monroe, where they
were held as prisoners of war until the fourteenth of
At Norfolk, Virginia, June 5, 1833, after his re-
lease from Fortress Monroe, the Prophet addressed a
mass of people from the balcony of the hotel, saying:
"Brothers, the Great Spirit sent us here, and now
happily we are about to return to our own Mississippi
and our own people. It affords us much happiness
to rejoin our friends and kindred. We would shake
hands with all our white friends assembled here.
Should any of them go to our country, on the Mis-
sissippi, we would take pleasure in returning their
kindness to us. We will go home with peaceable dis-
positions toward our white brothers, and make our
conduct more satisfactory to them. We bid you all
farewell, as it is the last time we shall see each other."
— Catlin, page 32.
Then followed the visit to the other cities, after
which they were returned to Fort Armstrong, arriving
there about the first of August. They were here form-
ally placed under the guardianship of Keokuk.
Black Hawk and his followers were placed on a
small reservation set apart for them on the Des Moines
River, in Davis County, Iowa, where Black Hawk died
on the third of October, 1838.
The Sauks and most of the Foxes were removed
to Franklin County, Kansas, in 1837, where the Proph-
et died in 1841.
— Handbook, page 886.
(Catlin, page 33, says the Prophet died about 1847.)
Personal Appearance And Pictures
Of The Prophet
Those who saw the Prophet and were associated
with him have left us a written description of his per-
sonal appearance, and two portraits of him were
painted from life by talented artists.
"He (the Prophet) is described as being six feet
tall, stout and athletic of figure, with a countenance in
keeping with his militant disposition."
— Handbook of American Indians,
Vol. II. Page 886.
'Tie (the Prophet) has a large, broad mouth, short
blunt nose, large full eyes, broad mouth, thick lips,
with a full suit of hair. He wore a white cloth head-
dress, which rose several inches above the top of his
head, the whole exhibiting a deliberate savageness —
not that he would seem to delight in honorable war,
or fight, but marking him as the priest of assassination
or secret murder. He had in one hand a white flag.
"*"*** He was clothed in very white dressed deer-
skins, fringed at the seams with cuttings of the same.
This description was written before any portrait or
engraving was made of him.
'Tie carried with him a huge pipe, a yard in
length, with the stem ornamented with the neck feath-
ers of a duck, and beads and ribands of various colors.
To its center was attached a fan of feathers. He wears
his hair long all over his head".
— Drake's Book of the Indians,
Part rv, page 163.
While Black Hawk, the Prophet, and ten other
warriors were detained as prisoners of war at Jeffer-
son Barracks in the fall of 1832, Catlin visited them.
''We were immediately struck with admiration at
the gigantic and symmetrical figures of most of these
warriors, who seemed, as they reclined in native ease
and gracefulness, with their half-naked bodies exposed
to view, rather like statues from some master hand
than like beings of a race whom we had heard char-
acterized as degenerate and debased. * * * * They
were clad in leggings and moccasins of buckskin, and
wore blankets, which were thrown around them in the
manner of the Roman Toga, so as to leave their right
Here Catlin painted the pictures of Black Hawk,
the Prophet, and the other ten, which pictures are now
in the National Museum at Washington.
The picture of the Prophet is in conformity with
the description given above by Drake. With his left
hand and fore arm horizontally in front of him, he
holds the stem of his long pipe so the ribands, feath-
ers and fan are visible. His hair completely covers
his head ; he wears a necklace of beads, and a garment
of buckskin which covers his shoulders and arms.
While Black Hawk and the Prophet were at Fort-
ress Monroe, R. M. Sully painted the Prophet's pic-
ture. Here he wears a full suit of hair, the necklace
* of beads and what seems to be a robe over his should-
ers. This picture is in the possession of the Wisconsin
The picture by Catlin and that by Sully show fa-
cial features and expression as much alike as one can
expect in two pictures painted by two artists at dif-
ferent times and places. The expression of both is
pleasing, there being none of the "countenance of a
The picture of the Prophet, which hangs in the
Board of Supervisors' room in the Court House at
Morrison, was presented to Whiteside County by the
Honorable E. B. Washburne, October 24, 1877. The
picture was painted by the noted artist Healy, in
Paris, and is a composition made from the paintings
made from life by Catlin. Mr. Washburne, a resident
of Galena, was for a number of years the Representa-
tive in Congress of the district of which Whiteside
County was a part. At the time of the presentation
of the picture he was the Minister of the United
States to France.